May is a big month for refining industry conferences in Europe. The 12th annual Uhde LDPE Plant Improvement Conference recently wrapped up in Barcelona, Spain and the Bottom of the Barrel Technology Conference kicks off in Croatia on Thursday, May 18th. It’s a testament to any speaker’s experience and expertise to present at just one of these events, but VEGA Americas Business Development Engineer/Process Licensor Advisor David Williams was invited to speak at both of them. David's been out of the office for a while now, but before he left he told us more about what he’s discussing at these two shows and his global travels during his VEGA Americas tenure.

Let’s start with the basics. What does LDPE stand for?
Low Density Polyethylene. LDPE products are thin, flexible plastics used for things like grocery bags and plastic wrap.

What are you presenting about at the LDPE Plant Improvement Conference?
The importance of linearization of radiation-based level instruments on high-pressure separators in LDPE plants.

What is a high-pressure separator?
It’s a vessel that separates high-pressure gas from a product, in this case, LDPE. LDPE comes out of a reactor in the plant and operators de-pressurize it because reactors run at 45,000 psi. High pressure separators decrease the LDPE pressure and remove the non-reactive ethylene gas.

I don't want to give away anything away, so let's switch to the other show, the one in Croatia. For the uninitiated, what does “Bottom of the Barrel” refer to?
The first thing to understand is that there are different types of crude oil that come from different parts of the world, and they all have different properties. Any barrel of crude, no matter where it’s from, contains 44 gallons of product, but not all of it separates during refining. For some kinds of crude, one or two gallons might be left behind; for others, it could be almost half the barrel. Bottom of the barrel refers to the heavy crudes that are left behind. It’s literally what’s left at the bottom of the barrel.

What are you presenting about at the BBTC?
The bottom of the barrel crudes need further processing in coke drums, slurry hydrocrackers, and other vessels to be usable. I’ll be presenting on operating coke drums using nuclear level measurement devices.

Give us a little sneak preview: Why should refinery operators use nuclear detectors on coke drums?
There are a lot of reasons, but I'll give you one for free: Nuclear detectors are non-contact so they can measure heavy crude without needing maintenance due to buildup or corrosion.

You’re one of VEGA Americas’ most well-traveled employees. How often do are you on the road?
I travel over 180 days every year.

How many frequent flyer miles do you have right now?
I use mine so I don’t know how many I have right now, but I’ve been here [at VEGA Americas] for over 15 years, and in that time, I’ve accumulated 2.7 million frequent flyer miles.

2.7M? How many countries is that?
I’ve been to 66 countries and over 120 different refineries.

Going anywhere besides Barcelona and Croatia on this upcoming trip?
I’m spending three days in Barcelona, then I’m flying to Madrid and London for meetings. While I’m in London, I’m seeing a show with a colleague from VEGA UK. Then I’m off to the Netherlands, and finally, Croatia.

You’ve been all over the world. What’s the strangest thing you’ve eaten in a foreign country?
When I was in China I ate congealed duck’s blood.

What was that like?
Sort of like tofu. It was file-cabinet gray and had no taste. Now that I think about it, I guess it was exactly like tofu.